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13 Tips You Should Know About Before Flying Solo

When starting out on your own for the first time it can be very scary, not knowing when your next pay check will be coming from. I wish I had information that was available to me back then to help ease the transition into flying solo.

I was lucky enough to work at a small marketing firm on my first job. I worked there for about two years before it went out of business but during those two years. I did learn the ins and outs of running a design firm, working with clients and print shops, prepping press ready files, juggling many projects and the business end of design.

These are thirteen tips I believe you should know about before going solo. I hope they useful and helpful to you. If you have any other tips to add, please feel free to comment below.

Be honest with yourself – Know your strengths and weaknesses. Surround yourself with good people that compliment your weaknesses. Be sure that you know your stuff; design and the process from concepts to print production to web design.

Learn from your day job – Learn everything you can before going on your own, from your day job. Like how to run a business, invoicing, billing, estimates, working with print shops, preparing print ready files, working with clients, file management, etc.

Saved your pennies – Save up some money before starting out on your own. It can be very tough getting your name out there in the beginning. Back up money, can really help you through those dry times.

Dealing with clients - Be patient with clients and educate them on your process. Never let them see you sweat. Be cool and level headed, even with the difficult ones. It’s about what you can do for them.

Be organized – Set up all your folders for each project. Place all paperwork related to the project in the folders: estimates, invoices, emails, correspondence, design, concepts, etc., so that it can be found easily. Also set up job folder on your computer for each project; concepts, layered files, text, etc.

Learn the business side – Make sure you learn about the business side of design; getting the proper licenses, permits, taxes, business forms, dealing with clients, self-promotion, getting new clients, etc., when starting a business.

Taxes – Read up and research about which taxes apply to you. Tax breaks, licenses, permits and what you can write off, etc., to insure not to get penalized by the IRS.

Branding - Brand yourself, let potential clients see you as a brand/product, a total package. Everything should look similar: logo, resume, business cards, marketing materials, signage, website, etc.

Make Connections – Make connections and network within/outside of your industry before going solo. It makes it a lot easier when you're on your own. It's who you know most of the time. You never know, who may refer you through word of mouth.

Contracts - Before you start any project or do any kind of work. Always get a signed contract and a 25%-50% deposit. A contract protects you and your client from any miscommunications. A 25%-50% deposit insures that the client is serious about working with you. Consult an attorney once you have drafted a contract, to cover all your bases.

Business Forms - When starting out in any business, it's very important having a logo, business cards or stationery, so you look professional. It's equally important having business forms that help in organizing and running of your business.

Creative Brief - It's a good idea to get some background information about your client before starting on any project. It will help to met client goals and expectations. Using a creative brief will help accomplish this.

A creative brief lays out the visual design directions to explore and the objectives of the project. Using the information on the form to make sure that we are both focused and are on the same page throughout the creative process to deliver the clients message.

Website - Make sure you have a website or a place to display your work with all your information. If you're not comfortable with building a website yourself. There are many free online web galleries you can use.

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Some great thoughts Calvin. You've included some important factors that can make your life so much easier if planned right from the beginning.

Organization in terms of budgeting, client files, emails and even chat-log means you're not hunting for that clarification you asked though MSN 4 months ago!

Its also very difficult for most of us to worry about the legal side of things (registrations, taxes and what not), but its something that has to be done. If everything is planned out right, your confidence and focus will no doubt increase as well. Just wanted to reinforce this point!

All the best!

This is such a great post. Getting started on your own involves SO MANY factors (and getting them all done at once involves SO MUCH work!)
Nice to have an overview like the one you provided...certainly makes it easier to tick them off as you go along.
I definitely need the guidance on organization.
It is truly amazing how many files and folders are generated for one project!

Great suggestions! With all the information available on the internet, and the dozens of social media entrepreneurs offering help, there's no reason why you can't start your own ebusiness. Just be smart and financially ready. It can take time to start earning online.

Excellent post. Well worth a Digg

Great info for someone like me who has recently taken the plunge and gone out on my own! Although I was helped out by corporate layoffs :).

Now if I can just figure out all this tax stuff :).

Another great post!

It definetly struck a cord with me as I went full-time self-employeed today and can use all the useful resources i can get.

Ill definetly be checking out the savy designers guide to success too!

Thanks for keeping all the great info flowing!

And about saving money and taxes.
DO NOT spend all the money you collect during the year - you need money for paying taxes.

Most freelancers break down the second year because of tax payments.


Your point: "Learn from your day job" really resonated with me. There is so much truth in that piece of advice. The first time I went out on my own I failed. I don't regret trying, but I'm glad I got the "day job" that I did because I learned sound business practices and ideas that I would never have known about before. Very good advice here. Thanks.

thanks for this post. this would help me a lot =)

"Be organized – Set up all your folders for each project. Place all paperwork related to the project in the folders: estimates, invoices, emails, correspondence, design, concepts, etc., so that it can be found easily. Also set up job folder on your computer for each project; concepts, layered files, text, etc." YES, YES, YES! I have performed administrative and book-keeping work on contract for more than two years. Time and time again, I do NOT see project folders set up. It's usually the first thing I do to organize the office.

Calvin this a great post "contracts" And "dealings with clients" :) 2 great points!

Nice post. Nice to see someone speaking in realities.

Great list. You hit on some really important tips here that are often overlooked. I think that networking and organization are too of the biggest factors to consider.

Make sure you can go with out benefits too. I can't do freelance because I need health insurance and would be denied due to a pre-existing condition if I didn't get through an employer.

Other than that, awesome article. My design professor has repeated all the same things to us (while still having a program strong in art and concept), which makes me feel great about the program I'm in. :)

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I am 14 and was looking up info about flying alone for the first time and read about 2 paragraghs then realized what it was really about ahahahahahahahaha!

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About me

  • Mayhem Studios is a small award-winning design firm located in Los Angeles, California, developing identity and brand recognition for the business sector across the nation. The Studio uses strategic and creative design with effective messages targeted to the client's specific audiences to produce identity and branded collateral pieces, annual reports, brochures, logo design, advertising and interactive web sites. Calvin Lee, Principal & Creative Director of Mayhem Studios is a graduate of Platt College and serves as a member of the Platt College Advisory Board for the Visual Communications Department, NO!SPEC Committee and on the Creative Latitude Management Team.
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